History of Philippine Cinema

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History of

Philippine Cinema


The youngest of the Philippine arts,
film has evolved to become the most popular of all the art forms. Introduced
only in 1897, films have ranged from silent movies to talkies; black and
white to color. Outpacing its predecessors by gaining public acceptance,
from one end of the country to the other, its viewers come from all walks
of life. Nationwide, there are more than 1000 movie theaters. Early in
the 1980s, it was estimated in Metro Manila alone, there were around 2.5
million moviegoers. As an art form, it reflects the culture and the
beliefs of the people it caters to and most times, is the one who shapes
their consciousness.

Philippine film as discussed in this
paper includes films made by Filipino people exhibited in this country
and possibly in other countries from the 1930s to the 1990s. The films
may be silent pictures or talkies, black and white or color. They also
include films such as documentaries, animation, experimental or alternative
films and other types of films.

This paper has three purposes or
objectives. It intends, first of all, to provide a comprehensible background
of the art of film in the Philippines. It provides insights on how the

Philippine film has influenced Philippine culture and vice-versa. This
is done by documenting the important events and important films in the
area of film for the past ninety years. Second, it intends to explain the
different trends and styles common in the Philippine film. And finally,
it concludes with an analysis on how two important events in history, namely

World War II and Martial Law altered the course of contemporary Philippine

However, this paper is limited to
films only from the particular time period of the 1930s to the 1990s. It
fails to give a picture of how films were like ever since it started in

1897. This paper is also severely limited due to the unavailability and
the lack of materials that discuss thoroughly the history of Philippine
film. Film materials for those made during the pre-WWII years are simply
non-existent. Data for this paper was gathered from the essays and reviews
written by the artists and the critics themselves. It goes without saying
that the resources were tested to the limits.


I. The 1930s to 1940s

A. Early Philippine Films

Filipinos started making movies
in 1919. However, it would be important to know that the film industry
in the Philippines began through the initiative of foreign entrepreneurs.

Two Swiss entrepreneurs introduced film shows in Manila as early as 1897,
regaling audiences with documentary films lips showing recent events and
natural calamities in Europe. Not only that but the arrival of the
silent films, along with American colonialism, in 1903 created a movie
market. But these film clips were still novelties. They failed
to hold the audiencesí attention because of their novelty and the fact
that they were about foreigners. When two American entrepreneurs made a
film in 1912 about Jose Rizalís execution, the sensation they made it clear
that the Filipinoís need for material close to their hearts. This heralded
the making of the first Filipino film.

The credit of being the first Filipino
to make a film goes to Jose Nepumuceno, whom historians dub as the "Father
of Philippine Movies". Nepumucenoís first film was based on a highly-acclaimed
musical play of that day, Dalagang Bukid (Country Maiden) by Hemogenes

Ilagan and Leon Ignacio.

In those early years of filmmaking,
enormous capital was needed to keep up with the Hollywood industry. Despite
its weak points, Hollywood provided the Philippine film industry with examples
that the early filmmakers followed. It is not surprising that many of those
same genres set so many years ago still appear in contemporary Philippine
films. But it was difficult to match Hollywood style in those days with
the meager capital set aside for the developing film industry. Ironically,
the same people who helped the film industry develop as a form of expression
were the same ones who suppressed this expression.

Early film producers included"wealthy Spaniards", American businessmen and Filipino landlords and politicians.

It is not surprising that...pre-war Philippine movies...were inhibited from
expressing their views that might question the establishment and were encouraged
instead to portray the love and reconciliation between members of different

Starting with Dalagang Bukid, early
films dug into traditional theater forms for character types , twists and
turns in the plot, familiar themes and conventions in acting. This set
the trend of Philippine films based entirely on immensely popular
dramas or sarswelas . Besides providing ready materials, this device of
using theater pieces ensured an already existing market.